The alarm sounded Tuesday morning, and Gabe reached over, hit it, and pulled his head up to look at the numbers. Why, he wasn’t really sure. They said the same thing they did every morning. 5:45. He dragged himself up and out of the bed, trudged to the little bathroom, and snapped on the light. His eyes protested the invasion. He made his way to the mirror, and looking at himself, rubbed his hand up, down, and across his eye.
It was weird, he could stay up all night, but the getting up early thing would never be second nature to him like it was to his father. He yawned as he turned the water on in the shower. His thoughts flowed from point to point examining the day ahead. The fact that he’d be babysitting his dad again made him sigh. He stepped into the shower and let the hot water pour down on him.
If he could just find a way to explain to his dad that his presence was more important at home than at work, that would take a lot of the stress off of him. However, he knew that would never happen. No, his dad was stubborn. He would go to work whether anyone liked it or not. The stress clasped itself across Gabe’s chest, and the water did nothing to release it. No, like it or not he had to pick up as much slack as he could without his dad knowing or even suspecting.
He turned so that the torrent hit him smack in the face. Staying here forever sounded good. However, his thoughts turned to how soon he needed to leave and then to the garden. The sigh this time was more of a moan. She would be there again. Why, he had no idea, but she would be—drinking her coffee and asking question after question about things he really couldn’t answer. What was he supposed to do about that? How was he supposed to tell her to get lost when telling her to get lost might well get him fired? Then again, after his brilliant performance yesterday, she probably wouldn’t show up again anyway. However, that thought tightened his heart like even the others hadn’t. It was a no-win situation.
As he re-shampooed his hair which always seemed to hold as much dirt as curl, he remembered the book from the night before. The Source. True Power. He breathed that in, and the stress released some of its hold. Circumstances bend to True Power, not the other way around. It was something like that. So did that mean if he was going on the power of God, his circumstances would change? If so, maybe that meant she would no longer come around and that he wouldn’t care one way or the other. Maybe that ultimately meant he wouldn’t be stuck in a situation he couldn’t change but couldn’t live with either.
He rinsed off one more time, then cut the water, and grabbed a towel. This thought held out some hope. He stepped out of the shower and over to the fog-covered mirror. Tying the towel at his waist and using his forearm to clear the mirror, he looked at himself. “Okay, God. I don’t know how to get her to quit coming, and her coming is driving me nuts. But today I’m trusting Your Power to change this situation. Do it the way You want. I’ll do whatever You tell me.”
The fact that she was supposed to be at work at nine didn’t deter Holly in the least. She grabbed her coffee and a muffin and quietly traipsed past the pool to the trellis. She couldn’t explain it, but she was drawn to these early morning weeding sessions. They grounded her somehow.
He was on the other trail, the one she had walked down the first day. Just the sight of him sitting there lifted her heart. She wanted to tell him about the job, about Luke, but she wasn’t even sure he would want to hear it. However, she wanted to tell him just the same. Softly she stepped up as she watched him, digging under the large purple-flowered bush. The sight made her heart lift as if on wings. “Morning.”
When he turned, she couldn’t quite read his eyes. “Morning.” He went back to weeding.
“Mind if I join you?” Her behavior from the day before slid back into her memory. He must think she was crazy.
He didn’t remove himself from the bush. “Suit yourself.”
Herself said she wanted to, so she sat down. The sidewalk was cold because the sun was only now tinting the world pink. She huddled into her sweatshirt, wondering what time he actually got here in the mornings. Maybe he just stayed here all night. It still wasn’t totally clear to her that he wasn’t an angel that appeared and disappeared like magic. She ate the last few crumbs of her muffin and took a drink of the hot coffee. Then, with nothing left to do, she simply sat and watched him.
It was hard to explain why that was so fascinating. There was a rhythm there that she hadn’t noticed until now. The movement seemed choreographed to some unheard beat. If she listened, she could almost hear it. Kind of like listening to the flowers. It wasn’t something you noticed if you were busy, but when you got quiet, it was right there. She took another drink of her coffee. “So, how’s God this morning?”
Gabriel looked back at her, his dark, thick, curly hair sticking out at strange angles from being combed by the bush. “Good. He says, ‘Hi.’”
She laughed and then let the laugh die. “I doubt it. I don’t even think He knows I’m alive.” She took another drink as he moved down the path.
“Oh, yeah? Why’s that?”
The shrug hurt although she didn’t want it to. “We don’t talk much. I don’t really see the point.”
He was carrying on the conversation in the midst of a wall green of leaves. “You don’t go to church?”
“Not unless I have to.”
He moved under the bush. “When was the last time?”
She let the question wind around her brain. “I don’t remember. When I was two?”
“And you haven’t been since?”
“What’s the point? God doesn’t want to hear from me.”
The weeding stopped, and he looked at her. “I wouldn’t be so sure about that.”
She let herself get trapped by his eyes. The intense green dragged her into them. “Why’s that?”
He went back to weeding, yanking the plants from the earth. “Well, you come out here every morning, and He’s all you want to talk about. I’m just wondering if He’s doing some work on getting you to remember He’s around.”
Holly recoiled at the idea. “I’m only asking because you said you were praying.” She took a drink. “Not because I’m interested.” Where the defensiveness was coming from, she wasn’t quite sure.
“Uh-huh.” He pulled a particularly big weed out and moved down the path. “And curiosity about what He thinks about you isn’t something you think about at all.”
“Oh, I know what He thinks about me. That’s pretty obvious.” It seemed as much as she wanted to come, when she was here, she always ended up wanting to run away.
She shook her head and let out a frustrated breath. “He’s seen me… when I’m sure He was wondering, ‘What did I waste My time making that?’” She shook her head again. “I think He probably wants to forget all about me.”
There was a hesitation. The rhythm skipped a beat. His motion slowed and then stopped altogether. He removed himself from the midst of the clump of yellow brush. Turning, he caught her in his gaze. He laid his hands on his criss-crossed ankles. “Is that really what you think?”
Holly swallowed hard. She blinked twice. Yes, that was what she thought, but with him looking at her like that, she couldn’t say it. Instead she shrugged as her gaze fell. How could she tell him about the nights with guys she didn’t even know? How could she explain about Gus and hiding out in a bathroom waiting for the door to come crashing down so he could get a clean, point-blank shot at her? How do you put that kind of terror into words? How could she explain the emptiness and the shame she felt every time her actions came to light? How could she say it without bringing them to light?
She knew he was moving back toward her, but she couldn’t pick her gaze up to him. If she did, he would know everything.
Then he was right next to her, no more than a foot away.
“Hey,” he said softly, and she felt the heat of his gaze glide across her face. “Hey.” This time his finger, soft and gentle, grazed under her chin, lifting and turning it so her gaze met his. He searched her soul with his eyes, reading every word on her heart. “Whatever it is. It doesn’t matter. God loves you, right now, just the way you are.”
Pain and horror at the things she had done, the things she had allowed herself to be a part of, ripped to the surface. Her spirit crumpled around them as the tears came. She dropped her gaze from his, letting gravity pull her chin from his touch. The shaking of her head was not so much caused by a signal from her brain as from the torment of her heart.
“Hey,” he said as she collapsed under the weight of all her stupid decisions. “Hey.”
And then she was in his arms. Why and how she had no idea. But he was holding her, stroking her back, as tears upon tears came gushing out of her.
“Shhh.” His touch was gentle and solid. It felt so different than every other guy who had ever held her. They always used this kind of moment to their maximum advantage.
At that thought, she yanked herself from him. He was a nice guy. That much was clear. He believed in God. He prayed, and he cared. The last thing he needed was the concrete block that was her life hanging around his neck.
“I’ve got to go.” She jerked herself to standing.
“Wait. Holly. Why?” He jumped to his feet, blocking her path.
However, she shook her head and brushed past him. She couldn’t stop when running made so much more sense.
And once again, Gabe was left standing on the path looking after her. He called to her twice, but she never so much as slowed down. Frustration poured out of his sigh as he looked up at the sky. “Okay, God, You and I have to have a serious talk.”
“Right on time,” Luke said, looking up as Holly strode into his office.
Hoping he wouldn’t notice that her eyes were still red from the crying, she pulled herself up to her full height and let out a solid breath. “Holly Jacobs, reporting for duty, Sir.”
The pain and fear in her eyes haunted Gabe all day. Cleaning the shrubs lining the entry of the driveway, he couldn’t get those eyes out of his mind. Maybe it had something to do with the noise of the weed whacker or the noise-blocking headphones, but for four solid hours, all he thought about was her.
The fact that his father was gone when he got back barely registered. It was, after all, long past quitting time. The dirt fell in clouds from his body, face, and hair as he replaced the protective eyewear and headphones on the wall. At the little sink in the work shop, he glanced at himself and shook his head. “I look like a raccoon.”
He washed as much of the dust off as he could, tossed the towel to the side, and went to the desk. Neat piles were stacked in three places. His father’s piles. He had seen them like this since he was a child. Carefully he sat down to examine them, trying to divine the system. The schedules lay in one pile, in the others a myriad of information connected only because it had to do with the grounds.
A full thirty minutes passed as Gabe sat going piece by piece through the stacks. His father knew the system, and with everything in him, Gabe wanted to know it too. However, as the clock wound round and down to 7:30, he finally gave up. Figuring it out would have to wait for another day.
As he left the work shop, he considered going straight home. He was a mess from the weed eating, and it would be nice to get a full night’s sleep for a change. Nonetheless, the carriage house called, and as always he turned the pickup up the little trail and headed that direction. At the crest of the hill, part of him tried to tell him he was just too tired tonight. He really should go home. Tomorrow might be better than today anyway.
After all, he couldn’t think straight what with her and the ringing of his ears. But determination to not waste a moment of the time God gave him pulled him out of the cab and to the heavy door. He opened it and stepped in. It was still strange. It had been almost a week, and yet every time he stepped into the dark, cold air, he still stopped and listened for her.
She wasn’t here. She never would be, he told himself harshly. “Forget about her.”
He turned on the swinging light and climbed the steps to the loft. With every step something told him he should just go home. Go home. Get some rest. Take a break. It was crazy to keep coming here. What was he searching for anyway? He was all the way to the top of the stairs when the understanding struck him like a throw brick. Satan.
That yanked tired away and replaced it with anger. “Okay, Satan and all your little minions, that’s enough. You are hereby banished from this place by the Blood of Jesus Christ, my Lord and my God. Get away right now.” He closed his eyes. “Holy Spirit, fill the void with You—Your peace, Your love, Your direction. Amen.”
It never ceased to amaze him how that simple prayer brought utter peace to his soul. He walked over to the bookshelf, pulled off True Power & Real Peace and then the Bible. He put the two books on the tiny coffee table, picked up the old quilt he used for just such times, and tossed it over the couch to protect it. Then he sat down. Ever since pulling out of the work shop, he had meant to read the book that had held him captivated; however, instead he grabbed the Bible.
With a shrug he opened it to the first page he came to and started reading.
I, the Lord, chose you because of My kindness, and I am here at your side. I created and appointed you to bring light and My promise of hope to nations. You will give sight to the blind and set prisoners free from dark dungeons.
Taking the Bible, he sat back into the couch. I, the Lord, chose you. Those words. They seemed not random but pointed, very much like the signs he had gotten so used to when he first came back from the brink. I, the Lord, chose you. You. It echoed in his mind. Not somebody else. Not the President or the mayor. You.
“But why, God? Why me? What is it You want me to do?”
His gaze fell back to the words.
Bring light… hope… give sight to the blind… set prisoners free from dark dungeons. The words filled him to the top so that a breath could hardly get in.
“How? How do I do what You’re asking? I don’t know how. Set prisoners free from dark dungeons? I don’t know any prisoners, and how could I free them anyway? What is this? You want me to be a lawyer?”
The message felt so close, as if God was standing right there saying the words right to him, and yet Gabe couldn’t quite get a handle on them. “I know, God. I know You’re trying to tell me something, but I don’t see it. Help me to see it.”
He reached down and picked up True Power & Real Peace. Instead of opening it where he had left off, he opened it randomly, and his gaze snagged on a phrase.
Because you know He is at your side.
Gabe’s breath stopped. His gaze backed up to the top of the paragraph.
Real peace comes when you know in your deepest self that you are not alone, that you do not have to take even a single step by yourself because you know He is at your side, that His power is IN you. Real peace is grounded in the understanding that you can never be harmed for any trial that you are faced with must first pass through Him for He stands in your future waiting for you to get there. And so you can walk with confidence, knowing His power is in you and His peace surrounds you.
As you walk on this path, you will become aware that not everyone understands these things as you do. Some will try to knock you off the path. Some will try to tell you that there is no path like this, that the world’s way is the only way. Some will consider you crazy for believing anything of the kind exists. But some… some will be inspired by your walk to begin their own. It is these for whom God has called you to light the path.
Through the understanding of True Power that we spoke about earlier, you know that God does not expect you to light this person’s path on your own. You must only be there to reflect God’s light into their lives as His Power and His Peace is shown in yours. As you do this, they will be called forth from their dungeons of darkness and begin to seek the light, His light, reflected in your life.
This is the ultimate calling of all rich souls.
Light. Darkness. Dungeons. Sight.
Gabe had seen this kind of thing before, when all messages pointed to one thing. Like shortly before his father’s heart attack when he had signed on to fill in “for a few days” because one of the other guys quit. The book slid to his knees. This job was supposed to be temporary, a couple days, a week maybe. And then the heart attack and the frightened pleadings of his mother, and now, here he was.
There is a reason. The words floated as if from nothingness to him. For a moment he reacted. Then he let them into his consciousness. There is a reason. It is what he had felt from the first moments of his father’s heart attack. He had been here for a reason. And yet… Yet, he wasn’t sure he liked the reason.
Maybe he wanted to be somewhere else—at the corporate offices of Smithe & Jenkins perhaps. They’d offered an apprenticeship. He’d even accepted. And then came the heart attack. That moment seemed to have changed the whole trajectory of his life, but he hadn’t been scared or even especially angry. As weird as that sounded, it had felt… right.
But now. Now he was facing a future blurred by that moment. The only thing that kept his feet here was the constant reminder that God had a plan, that there was a reason, that he must be willing to take the next step and trust. Sometimes that was the hardest thing to do, trusting when there was no real evidence that being here was at all the thing he should be doing.
In fact no one at school understood. There were times he didn’t even understand. Like tonight. And now, here was God, once again, telling him there was a reason and that he was not alone. A book he had read sometime in college drifted through his consciousness. It was something about getting out of the boat and walking on water.
He didn’t remember much about it other than how it felt while he was reading it to consciously choose again and again to get out of the boat of doing it himself in order to do it God’s way. It always seemed like God chose the most impossible option, but it always turned out to be exactly the decision that led him to his heart’s truest desire.
And here he was again, walking on water, only this time he couldn’t define just why. There was his father’s situation, yes. And there was the overwhelming amount of work to be done, the question of how to go back to school when that time came, and what to do when school was over. But even all those seemed inadequate to what God was asking of him.
He closed his eyes and took a deep breath. “Show me, God. Show me.”
Instantly behind his closed eyes Holly’s face came into focus, and he gasped at the clarity of it. His eyes flew open, and he shook his head. “Oh, no. No. You can’t be serious.” He jumped to his feet and paced to the railing. “She doesn’t even believe in You.”
However, even as he said it, he knew it wasn’t true. She was lost, that much was abundantly true, but she was also seeking, reaching out for answers, for The Answer. His gaze dropped back to the book still in his hand. He opened it.
You must only be there to reflect God’s light into their lives as His Power and His Peace is shown in yours. As you do this, they will be called forth from their dungeons of darkness and begin to seek the light, His light, reflected in your life.
This is the ultimate calling of all rich souls.
It was crazy to even think he could make any kind of difference in her life. She wouldn’t even stay to finish a conversation! However, the protests were drowned out by the deep knowing. Holly was his assignment, sent to him by the Holy Spirit. He was here for a reason, and the reason was her. The only problem was, he felt dry himself. How could he let God’s love in his life overflow into hers if he was using every drop of it to keep going himself?
Trust and know I am at your side.
“Okay, God,” he finally said, letting the words jump into the void in him. “But You’re going to have to do this if You want it done because I know I can’t.”
Interestingly peace filled his heart as if God replied, “That’s all I needed to hear.”
The next morning for the first 20 minutes of weeding, Gabe had done nothing but pray for her. First it was for the right words when she came. Then it was for God’s light to find her life without going through Gabe. Finally it was for her safety because the fact that she hadn’t shown up yet was starting to worry him.
He was deep into weeding the Russian Sage when he heard her “Morning” behind him. A smile spread all throughout his spirit as he breathed silent prayers of thanksgiving and for courage and peace.
He turned slightly. “Morning. I was beginning to think you weren’t coming.”
In her oversized maroon and gold Boston Central sweatshirt and jeans, Holly lowered herself to the walk and huddled there, sipping her coffee. “Sorry. I was laying out my work clothes.”
Hope and surprise surged in him. “Work clothes? You got a job?”
She took a sip. “I had it yesterday. I just didn’t get to tell you.”
The sight of her retreating the day before played through him. He considered saying something about it but stopped himself. “Well, congratulations. That’s awesome. Where are you working?”
“For Mr. Teracini. He took pity on me.”
Gabe disengaged a knot of weeds. “Pity?”
“Yeah, I was about to atrophy sitting around the house all day.” She took a sip. “And shopping and Paris aren’t exactly my ideas of total excitement and joy.”
“Paris?” This was easier than he thought. He didn’t hardly have to say anything, just let her talk.
“My mother.” Holly rolled her eyes dramatically. “She’s all into this now we’re rich illusion.”
He pulled more weeds. “Why’s it an illusion?”
Holly put her elbows on her knees and leaned forward looking at him. She seemed to be working on getting the right words to line up in her head. Gabe didn’t push. He knew better. He’d learned better.
“Mr. Teracini is rich, and to my mother, that means we’re rich. But I know how this works. I’ve lived it too many times.”
He nodded, watching her for clues to the depth of what she was telling him. “How does it work?”
She took a sip and a breath. “We get attached to some guy, Mom gets him to fall in love with her, they get married, and six months later they can’t stand each other. So they get a divorce, and we’re back to square one.”
He yanked on a particularly stubborn weed. “And you think that’s going to happen this time?”
Holly shrugged and took a sip. “Why won’t it?”
Understanding of how perilous it must be to live like that struck him. For him, he’d lived in the same house nearly his whole life. He’d known the same two parents, the same environment, the same everything for as long as he could remember. He couldn’t imagine being uprooted every six months for a completely new life. “That must be tough, never really being sure.”
She took a sip and smiled a smile he didn’t like at all. “You get used to it.”
He continued weeding, but only half-heartedly. “So, tell me about it. If you’re constantly scared it’s going to be over, or thinking that it might be, you must make some assumptions about how to live now.”
“I used to try to make them stay—you know the guys she hooked up with. I’d do the dishes, do the laundry, do my best to stay invisible and out of the way, or whatever else they wanted. But they always left. They always found a reason to hate us and leave.”
“Us?” That word stopped him. “I don’t think it was you they hated.”
She shrugged. “Same difference. They left, didn’t they?”
He couldn’t argue with that. “But you’re doing it different this time. You’re making your own way—like with this job.”
There was actually a small flicker of light that came through the gloom on her face. “I’m just his assistant. I’ll file and type—stuff like that, but it’s pretty cool.” She took a small sip. “I don’t think Mom knows about it yet.”
Something in her tone made the hope in his fall into an abyss. “Oh, why not?”
Holly shook her head. “She’d never allow it.” The sun peeked into the garden, and she jumped. “What time is it?”
Gabe pulled his watch up to read it. “Almost eight.”
“Oh, wow. I’ve got to be going.”
Not wanting her to leave but ever the gentleman, he stood and reached for her hand. “Yeah, me too.” When she was up, he took a real look at her. It was true, she was beautiful, but there was so much more there that he had never really bothered to see. His hand stayed on hers for one more moment. “Will you be back tomorrow?”
Her gaze met his, holding there. “Will you?”
His smile slid slowly from his heart. “I’m always here.”
For several seconds she didn’t move. “Then so will I.” She shook her head to get her gaze to disengage. “I’ve got to go.”
He let her go and watched as she started up the walk. “Have a good day, Holly.”
She turned, ever-so-slightly and waved. For once he felt the peace of not having totally messed things up with her. He reached down and grabbed the weeds. She was so complicated. Everything about her seemed complicated. She lived so much on the surface of life that it was hard to get her to go deeper. The sense that she didn’t want to go deeper slipped into his spirit.
“Dear Lord, please be with Holly today. Protect her, Lord, and give her the strength to find the light.”
Holly wasn’t late, but she felt like she was. In fact, she felt like a teenager sneaking in after curfew. There was no reason she shouldn’t be out in the garden, but something about it made her feel the need to sneak those mornings past anyone who might be watching. She raced up to her room, thankful she had laid out her clothes.
The ice blue button down shirt curved with her, and the black pants set off her slim legs. When she looked in the mirror to wind her hair and secure it with a clip, she nodded. She looked like assistant material. After slipping on the black slingbacks, she hurried downstairs to the office. On her swing she strode into the office. “Good morning, Sir.”
Luke looked up from his desk and smiled. “This is the kind of assistant I like.”
She went over to the credenza to see what he had laid out for her to do. “How’s that?”
“She’s happy. She’s cheerful. She’s on time.”
Holly smiled at the list. Maybe, just maybe for the first time in her life she might actually do something right. “Is this the filing we talked about yesterday?”
“Oh, yes, and I noticed we’re behind on the receipts from the grounds crew. The last one in there is like from April.”
She nodded understanding the problem but not how to fix it.
Luke continued to write on whatever he was doing. “We need to get those in the computer, so I can have a breakdown of what’s going where.”
“Okay.” She held up the stack to file. “And where do I get those?”
“You’ll have to run down to the work shop. It’s at the bottom of the drive and off to the left in the trees. Mr. Cabrelos should be in today. He can get them for you.”
“Oh.” The name sliced through her thoughts. “Okay.” She pulled herself up. “Is this all?”
He barely looked up. “For now.”
His father had gone into town for ten things that Gabe had forgotten they needed. They weren’t on the list, and he was beginning to feel the pressure of being second in control with no idea what he was doing. He had just come in from watering the roses in the private backyard when he heard the first noise.
“Knock. Knock.” Her voice flitted through him like a butterflies on Alpine Columbine.
“Oh, y-yeah.” He knew it was her without even seeing her. He cleared his throat. “Come in. I’m in here.”
The vision that stepped through the doorway trapped him in a trance so thick it fogged over his entire mind. Beautiful didn’t even come close.
“Hey, I thought you might be who Mr. Teracini was talking about.” That smile. Those lips, now fully covered with bright red lipstick. They sent him into spirals of unreality such that he had never before experienced.
Stunned silence was his only reply.
“So this is your office.” Holly’s gaze danced around the work shop that suddenly seemed horribly dirty and rank. “Nice.”
“It’s…” Gabe jumped up, grabbed three rags from the top of the table, and tossed them into the trash. “We haven’t really had time to clean it up here lately. We’ve been kind of…” When he turned, his breath was whisked from him.
She laughed. “Busy?” Her nod and smile held him captive. “I know. That’s why I figured you haven’t had time to run the receipts up to the house.”
“The receipts?” Even following a simple sentence was impossible.
“Yeah, I’m putting all the expenses into the computer for Mr. Teracini, but we’re behind on the receipts for the grounds work.”
Nerves and all-out confusion attacked him from all sides. His hands fell from his hips. “Oh, really?” He cleared his throat again because a fist was choking the breath out of him. “Well, when do you need from?” He strode to the filing cabinet, seeing every single thing that was out of place or dirty, and that was like everything.
He started to open the metal monstrosity, but he didn’t get the silver latch all the way open, and the pull only made a lot of noise when his hand slipped from the handle with a thunderous clang. He tried again, fighting to calm himself down enough to think straight. Hold, slide, open. It seemed so simple ten minutes ago. He scratched the side of his head. “Now, what do you need again?”
“From April,” she said, her voice tinkling like a million little bells.
“April. April.” He searched, wishing he had any idea what he was searching for. Finally he came out with the folder that had been stuffed full of receipts he knew to keep but that he had no idea where or how or what to do with. He pulled the mess out before he realized how disorganized and muddled it looked. “This?”
Holly raised her eyebrows when she caught sight of it. “Looks like you need a secretary too.”
Gabe handed her the folder, wishing he could hire her on the spot. “I’m not always real good with paperwork.” Sheepishly he tilted his head and scratched his ear.
She leafed through the receipts until she was satisfied that this is what she had come for. Then unexpectedly her gaze caught on his. “Hey, we can’t be good at everything, right?”
The moment froze mostly because Gabe couldn’t think of anything else to say.
“Well, I guess this is what I needed,” she said, holding it up. “Thanks.”
“Oh, y-yeah. No problem.”
She turned to walk out, and he followed her, liking the back view as much as the front.
He couldn’t even feel himself moving, it was more being pulled by her. “Well, now that I know who to give them to, I’ll be sure to bring them up.”
She glanced back at him, clearly wary about falling into the dirt on the floor. “Thanks. That’d be great.”
At the door, he leaned on it mostly so his jelly legs would have help holding him up. “See you tomorrow?”
This time she really turned. “I wouldn’t miss it.” And with that she started up the trail to the driveway.
Never before had a girl affected him like that. Then again, she was no ordinary girl. She was Holly Jacobs, and just the name made his heart do flip-flops. He turned back to work, anticipating the sunrise as he never had before.
“Miss Holly,” Rosa said, knocking on the door softly. “You have a phone call.”
For one absurd moment Holly’s heart took flight. Maybe it was Gabriel. Then sanity took over. It wasn’t Gabriel. She rolled off the bed wanting only to tell whoever it was to go away. Downstairs in the sitting room, she picked up the phone. “Hello?”
The night sky swathed the window behind her.
“Holly? Hi, this is Jean Paul. How are you?”
She closed her eyes and summoned her best act. “I’m fine. How are you?”
“Great. Listen. A group of friends and I are going out to the beach on Saturday. I was wondering if you might want to come along.”
The beach? That screamed trouble. But if she said no, that would get back to her mother and to Luke, and Luke had been so nice to her, she didn’t want to mess that up by rejecting his nephew. Plus, Jean Paul wasn’t that bad, and it was one day. She wouldn’t let herself think beyond that. “Okay.”
“Cool. I’ll pick you up about noon.”
“Okay.” They were two of the hardest syllables she’d ever spoken.
Tapping into the True Power of The Source gives the rich soul the ability to see things not as they are but as they could be.
Gabe sat on the little couch absorbed in the depth of the words. They held the keys, the answers he needed—not for himself now but for her. Somehow that felt more important than any self-help tome he’d ever read.
The Bible says, “Faith is the evidence of things hoped for and the substance of things not seen.” What this means for the rich soul is that you must learn to look not at the finished flower but at the seed and be able to see in it what no one else can—the potential it carries—that it is already the flower it is to become.
He smiled at the reference. Sometimes God was so funny.
This seeing takes something few Christians have learned to develop, but all rich souls must—the ability to imagine a world that is not visible to the world at large. It is the letting go of what is termed reality to be able to see the possibility inherent in any situation. It is calling into the physical realm what already is in the spiritual realm. It is what is meant by “Thy will be done on earth as it is in Heaven.” Notice it doesn’t say “as it will be some day in Heaven,” but rather as it already is. It is understanding that what could be on earth already is in Heaven and bringing the two together in a powerful way.
For example, Oskar Schindler’s reality was that of war, killings, and utter hopelessness, but in the face of that hopelessness, he managed to imagine a business that helped save countless Jews. Had he been bound by the reality of his situation, he would have been helpless to act in any meaningful way, much less to save others. But he was not bound by reality. He was not limited to what he could see. He had faith. He had imagination—the True Power of being able to see not what is but what could be, being able to see the solution Heaven already held.
It is the hallmark of a rich soul.
Gabe closed the book and sat for a moment. When he glanced to the side, he saw it. Carefully he reached over and picked the little stone up from the bookshelf. It was the one Marvin had given him as a reminder of his probation years before. He could still hear Marvin as he held the lumpy, bumpy, dirty outside of the rock into the light.
“You see yourself as the outside of this rock. But I see you like this.”
Gabe remembered the very moment the soft, flat, shiny inside was revealed. Even as he turned the geode over in his hands now, he remembered seeing it for the first time. It was the beginning of a new life for him, one that to that moment he hadn’t even been able to imagine.
Faith is seeing what nobody else does.
His mind traced back to Marvin. He hadn’t talked to the man in almost five years. Gabe leaned back and tossed the stone into the air. “He’s probably still pulling troublemakers out of the fire.” With a breath he sat up, leaned forward, and closed his eyes. “Thanks God, again, for Marvin. You and I both know he saved my life.”
The night outside was drifting down into the depths of ebony when Gabe stood and replaced the rock. It was a constant reminder of what could have been, and for that, he would be eternally grateful. He pulled off the light, descended the stairs, and pushed through the heavy door.
The night beyond was humid and warm. His gaze drifted up the hill to the mansion he couldn’t even see. Faith and imagination let him see for a moment the possibility of making his dreams come true. For now, that was enough.
“Morning,” Holly said when she finally found him by the pond. There must be some system to where he weeded when, but so far she hadn’t found it.
“Morning,” Gabriel said from his position next to the large gray rocks. “Did you get the receipts taken care of?”
She nodded as she sat down. “I did.” The moment drifted into the next before she spoke again. She took a sip as she watched him. There was something so peaceful about just doing that. “How’s the weeding coming?”
His movement snagged for a moment. “Great. How’s the new job?”
“Fun. I actually feel like I’m doing something right for a change.” She lifted the cup to her lips. “It’s scary.”
Gabriel pierced her with those soft green eyes. “Must be nice to feel like you’re contributing again.” He was sitting on a rock, pulling tiny weeds from around it.
“Nice to feel like someone knows I’m around.”
His hands were working with minimal thought on his part. “So this is a permanent position then?”
“If I don’t mess anything up. As permanent as summer gets anyway. I’ve got school back East in August, remember?” Teasing him was so easy, and she loved his smile.
“Back East. Boston.” He nodded at her sweatshirt. “You must be very proud of going there.”
Confusion traced over her. “Why’s that?”
“You wear that sweatshirt every morning.” He shrugged and returned to working. “You either love school, or you don’t have many things in your closet.”
Holly looked down at her sweatshirt. She’d never even thought of it. “It’s the only warm thing I brought with me. Unless you think weeding and cashmere go together.”
He didn’t say anything in reply. She watched him for a long moment, thinking of the argument she’d had with herself the night before. It wouldn’t hurt to ask.
“So, is this weeding thing like a solo assignment, or do can anybody do it?”
Genuine surprise lit his face. “You want to weed?”
She shrugged. “It looks relaxing.”
He laughed. “Unless you’re on deadline.” After a moment he motioned for her. “Come here. I’ll show you.”
Holly set her cup down, pushed to her feet, and brushed off her jeans. She picked her way through the grass and over to him. As she folded herself down, she could feel his hand come out to steady her lest she fall. Once on the ground, she wound a strand of hair over her ear, wishing she had thought to put it up but knowing it was too late now.
“It’s pretty simple. The plants that are growing are supposed to be there. Everything else has to go.” He pulled a weed and held it up as if it was the secret to life. He bent again, this time under the twining vine chasing out in all directions behind the waterfall. “Just feel around. You’ll know what’s not supposed to be there.”
On the plant next to him, Holly took his lead. She got on her hands and knees not looking anywhere near as graceful as he did. She patted around on the ground, not really feeling what he was telling her.
“Sweep your hand,” he instructed. “You’ll feel them sticking up.”
She obeyed, and sure enough her hand brushed across something two inches higher than everything else. With a small tug it came out. She held it up for his inspection.
“See,” he said, taking it from her, “easy.”
At first awkwardness clung to her, telling her this was silly, but eventually that voice got tired and quieted down. She pulled a weed here, two there as the peace and quiet of the morning wrapped around her. Three plants down she sat back to watch him again. There was a certainty about his motions that she didn’t feel quite yet, but it was nice to not be criticized for trying.
Her laugh came from deep down inside her. “Well, now you just have to teach me to pray, and we’ll be all set.”
It was a joke. At least she thought it was until he snatched her up in his gaze.
“Are you serious?”
Suddenly she wasn’t sure about anything. “Well, that’s the point, right?”
He sat for a long moment just looking at her. “Okay. Well…” He bent over so that his gaze was no longer on hers.
She waited a breath and then followed him. She reached under the red and pink flowers.
“Dear Lord,” Gabriel said, his voice mixing with the breeze, “thank You for this morning. Thank You for the blessings in our lives—those we see and those we haven’t yet seen.”
Holly’s spirit breathed in the words. She pulled a small weed and then another.
“We ask You to guide us today in our work and in our relationships with others. I ask that You be with my parents today. Please show my dad he doesn’t have to be Superman, and give my mom the strength she needs to bear watching him try.”
There was a small pile gathering at her side.
“We ask that You be with Holly as she tackles this new job, that her skills and talent will be suitably recognized and rewarded. God, we thank You and we praise You for finding a way to get her this job even though at one time it seemed impossible.”
The words wound into her heart, touching it softly in places long-ago hardened with bitterness and fear.
“Remove the obstacles standing in her path, Lord. I ask that Your light shine in her world so that she will see You for Who You really are—loving, kind, generous, and gracious. Rain Your Grace and Your Hope in our lives, Lord. Where there is fear, sow love. Where there is hate, sow love. And where there is unbelief, Lord, give us faith and hope. We ask this, Lord, in the Name of Your Most Beloved Son, Jesus Christ. Amen.”
Long after the prayer drifted away on the breeze, Holly’s spirit continued it. God, she prayed softly, thank You so much for Gabriel. Give him every good thing because he’s been there for me when no one else cared. Bless Rebecca and Emily and Eric too. They’ve tried so hard, Lord, and I don’t know what I would do without them. Thank You for everything good in my life right now. For Luke and for my mom. Show her that I’m not as bad as she thinks. And God, if possible, give her peace.
“Well,” Gabriel said, leaning back and dusting off his hands. He looked at his watch. “I think that’s it for today.”
“Oh.” Holly leaned back and looked at the small trail of weeds that had followed her movement down the garden. It wasn’t impressive, but it felt good anyway. She stood and arched her back. Only then did she notice the dirt caked across her fingernails. “I’d better get so I can get cleaned up.”
“Yeah.” Gabriel’s eyes were gentle and kind. “I’ll see ya around.”
She smiled gratefully. “Around and around.” Her gaze fell to the concrete, and when she looked at him, it was peeking out from under her fall of hair. “Thanks.”
His smile lit his whole face. “You’re welcome.”
By Saturday morning Gabe could think of little other than that precious hour spent each day with her in the garden, weeding, working, and praying. It settled him, gave him a moment to look forward to the rest of the day. He was working around the base of the gazebo when he heard the footfalls, and his heart shot forward like a racehorse.
“Morning,” she said from behind him.
He turned and couldn’t stop the smile. “Morning.”
She knelt next to him, and the scent of her wafted over him. Beauty and grace met in her being, and he breathed a prayer of thanksgiving for her presence in his life. From all accounts work was going well, and he had the distinct impression that it was changing her in ways he couldn’t even articulate. She was more confident now, less passive. He counted those as good things and marveled at them as he watched her pulling up the weeds around the wood planks of the gazebo.
Somehow he had completely forgotten about everything else when suddenly her gaze snagged on his.
“So are you praying, or am I?” she asked with a teasing tone.
“It’s Saturday. I think you should do the honors.” For a second he was horrified by his own suggestion. What if she freaked and took off again?
She let out a breath. “Well, I’m not very good at it.”
Fear attacked him, but he staved it off. “That’s okay. Just talk to Him like you’d talk to me.” That did nothing to calm him. What was he saying? This was totally putting her on the spot.
Gabe’s heart slid through him.
Holly pulled three more weeds before she started. “God, hi. It’s me and Gabriel again.”
The fact that he wasn’t breathing hardly registered. However, he liked the sound of his name coming from her voice. Silently he prayed his own prayer to help her with hers.
“Thank You for giving us today. Thank You for the flowers and the trees and the vineyard.” She sat back as her gaze traveled out, down, and across it. It truly was beautiful. “Thank You so much for bringing me here and teaching me about You.” One more moment and she dropped back to work. “Thank You for Gabriel and his patience with me. Thank You for everything You’ve done for me this week. God, please be with Gabriel’s dad. We put him in Your care. Help Gabriel make good decisions about his parents and about his life going forward from here.
“I know how much You must love him, God.” The words stopped, and Gabriel fought not to look over at her. A few heartbeats and she found the train of thought once more. “Thank You for everything. Amen.”
She had made it a quarter of the way around the base. A moment of the breeze taking the prayer to Heaven, and she glanced over at him. “You think He heard any of that?”
Instantly he was caught in the hope in her eyes. “Do you?”
A weed. Another. “Yeah. I think maybe He did.”
It seemed no time at all before Gabriel was standing to help her up. How an hour could go by so quickly, Holly had no idea.
“Well,” he said, his gaze sliding out to the rolling hills far in the distance, “I guess it’s that time again.”
She dusted off her hands. “Yeah, I guess so.” She glanced up at him, and her heart gripped her breath. How could anyone look so good in an old T-shirt and dirty jeans? The breeze snagged her hair and sent it flitting across her face. She brushed it away. “So same time tomorrow?”
Concern streaked across his face. “No. Tomorrow’s Sunday. I don’t come out here on Sundays, remember?”
Sad depression swooped in on her. “Oh, yeah. I forgot.” She tried to brush it off like it was nothing, but her heart peered into the abyss of 48 hours without the sound of his voice and the strong presence he exuded with absolutely no effort at all. It was truly frightening. “Well, then I guess I’ll see you Monday. Same time, same place?” As if it was some sort of business transaction, she held out her hand.
“Can’t wait,” he said, looking into her eyes as their hands met.
The breath she took in with the strength of his touch threatened to fill her to overflowing. It was all she could do to act like her brain waves weren’t scrambling. “Cool. I’ll see you then.”
“Yeah,” he said, but he never moved.
Holly sensed that if she didn’t break the spell, they’d still be standing here come Monday morning. She took a step to the side. “See you Monday.” And with that, she forced her feet to follow the path toward the house.
“Monday,” Gabe said, not at all sure anything he was saying made any sense. It was like falling into a black hole in which all of everything other than her was swallowed up and dispersed. It was minutes at least after she had disappeared up the trail that he got enough of his senses back to move.
She should be outlawed he decided as he gathered the weeds and started for the work shop. ‘Beware: Hazardous to Your Sanity’ should’ve been tattooed to her forehead. It was enough that she came and prayed with him, but touching her hand, looking into her eyes, hearing her say his name—those were just unfair to any man trying to stay calm, cool, and collected about the whole situation. After all, it was a given that she wouldn’t be interested in him. Why she even came was a mystery.
His mind was still on her when he made it to the work shop. He walked into the office and found his father sitting at the desk.
“When Tim gets here, the two of you need to see about the front gate,” his father said. “They called ten minutes ago, something about one of the hinges dragging.”
“K.” In truth Gabe never really heard the order.
“Oh, London is so beautiful this time of year,” her mother had made Holly’s room her first stop upon her return, mostly because Luke was out of town on business. “I can’t wait until Paris next week.”
The thought of telling her she couldn’t go traced through Holly, but she didn’t want to endure the yelling, so she said nothing. Laying out her clothes as her mother prattled on, she wished with everything in her that she didn’t have to wear the bikini. It said so much about her—things she wished weren’t true although she knew they were.
“Headed poolside?” her mother finally asked, noticing the accumulation of swimming paraphernalia. “If you wait a minute, I’ll join you. I have got to work on my tan anyway. I’m going to look like a sick ghost by July if I don’t hurry.” She stood to go.
“I’m not going to the pool.” Holly hated this part. She grabbed the towel and the suntan lotion and shoved it into the bag.
“Well, then what’s all of this for?”
Holly sighed. “I’m going to the beach.”
If she could figure out a way to not say it, she would have. “With Jean Paul.”
Her mother’s eyes widened in sheer delight. “Oh, how wonderful.” She stepped over to Holly and laced her arm there. “I’m telling you, this is going to work out for both of us.”
Gabe was perched high up on the ladder by the broken gate. The top hinge was going to need some significant welding to get it working again.
“What do you think, boss?” Tim asked from the ground.
Movement down the drive caught Gabe’s attention. “I think you’d better move, or you’re going to get run over.” Only then did he really stop to see the car as it approached. His eyes narrowed. The black Porsche.
Below him, Tim pressed himself up against the trees to avoid the car that barely slowed down at the gate. “Gee, hello! We’re working here!”
“Like he cares,” Gabe spat. He went back to examining the gate. “We’re going to need the welder. Bring the glasses, helmet, and everything.”
“You got it.” Tim started off down the trail.
Gabe worked another ten seconds, and then his gaze followed the car up the driveway. It couldn’t be, could it?
The ring of the doorbell went right through Holly. He was here. Great. She heard Rosa open the door and her mother gush over him. It was ridiculous how her mother couldn’t even open a door anymore.
“Holly!” her mother called so the dead could hear. “Jean Paul is here!”
With a reluctant tug, she pulled her bag of swim gear off the bed. Might as well get this over with. She trudged down the stairs and was a little perplexed to find no one in the entryway.
“Oh, Darling, we’re in here,” her mother said from the sitting room.
When Holly reached the doors, she had to restrain her frustration. There stood her mother, Armani suit and all, her arm hooked through Jean Paul’s. Of course he couldn’t be rude and remove himself from her clutches. Although she didn’t want to, Holly had to save him.
“Hi, Jean Paul.” She strode up and claimed him from her mother.
His eyes lit when he saw her. “Wow. You look amazing.”
She smiled. “Thanks. Are we ready? I’d hate to be late.”
“Late with the beach crowd?” Jean Paul asked. “They’d hardly notice I wasn’t there. Although after they see you today, they’d definitely notice if you weren’t.” His gaze traveled all the way down her mini-skirted shirt dress.
It felt like he was undressing her with his gaze, and she fought not to squirm uncomfortably. “Well, we’d better go.”
Her mother followed them to the door. “You two have fun. Don’t worry about curfew tonight.”
Holly cringed. Thanks for telling him that.
The moment the door opened, Gabe’s attention glommed onto them. Tall and handsome her boyfriend looked like he’d been chosen to be the perfect compliment to her. Blonde hair, athletic build, blue eyes that Gabe couldn’t see but knew were there anyway. And the way he looked at Holly made Gabe want to punch him.
How stupid could he possibly be to let himself think he might ever have a chance with her? There was no chance. She came in the mornings because she was bored. That was all. He dropped his gaze to the hinge, trying not to watch.
The little Porsche roared to life just as Tim returned lugging the welder. He dragged it to the side of the driveway and turned to watch the little black car wind down toward him. He backed up off the asphalt and onto the dirt, yanking the welding cart with him to get it out of the way. The Porsche never slowed down.
“Well for Pete sakes, people!” Tim yelled to the departing car. “You could have a little patience.” He spat an obscenity as he worked to get the welder unstuck from the soft dirt. “Well, I guess that answers our question about the Ice Princess.”
“What question’s that?” Gabe asked, half-heartedly because the other half hurt too bad to follow the conversation.
“She is just like her mom.”
Fresh, stinging pain punched to the surface. Fighting it, Gabe looked down. “Are you going to get that thing together, or am I going to be up here all day?”
Thankfully it wasn’t Gabriel they’d almost run over although Holly was quite sure he would hear about the incident. Jean Paul seemed wholly unfazed that he’d just sent a man stumbling into the trees to avoid bodily harm. Holly glanced over at her escort, and dislike bordering dangerously on hate twined through her. She readjusted her gaze outside.
Don’t think about it. Get through it. Clamp a good face down over whatever it is you really feel if you can’t make what you really feel go away altogether.
At that moment, Jean Paul looked over at her. His hand traveled from the gearshift onto her bare knee. “I can’t wait to show you off. Lash is going to be there today. He’s going to totally flip out when he sees you.”
Holly tried to smile like she couldn’t wait. In reality she started saying prayers that someone was praying for her because she could certainly use them to get out of this mess in one piece.
“It’s JP!” one of the girls on the beach screamed. She waved up to them.
Holly was abundantly conscious of his hand holding hers. Had it not been, she might well have turned around and run. There were at least fifteen people in the little group with the girl. Nerves began inexorably taking over, but still Holly walked, following like a good little pre-wife. Down the wooden steps they went until they arrived on the soft, warm sand. It seeped in over her pink and yellow flip-flops. What she would give for a good, cold, icy Boston snow right now.
“You made it, man,” one of the guys with long shorts but no shirt on said, holding his hand up for Jean Paul to hit. The guy had a tan the color of red clay.
“I said we would.”
The guy’s gaze went to her and down approvingly. “So who’s your new friend?”
“Steve, this is Holly.” Jean Paul stumbled on the last name.
“Jacobs,” Holly said, thankful she could remove her hand from Jean Paul’s to shake Steve’s. However, the way Steve held it as he appraised her again made her skin crawl.
“Steve Lasher.” He looked at Jean Paul and smiled a toothy smile. “I hope you brought your keys.”
Jean Paul held them up with a smile all his own. “Of course.”
Steve’s gaze went down her again. “Excellent.”
All day long against his own better judgment Gabe watched the front gate and the driveway. If they went for lunch, they should be back by now. But for all he knew they left for Tahiti to get married. Frustration with himself for ever letting his guard down with her poured through him. She was trouble from minute one. He should have known that the second he saw her under the steps.
She wasn’t sweet and innocent, and he was no knight in shining armor. Of course she said they weren’t rich and all of that, but that was probably a game too, meant to get his hopes up. No, Holly Jacobs only went out with Porsche-driving hill boys who had no concern for anything or anyone other than themselves.
By quitting time, he’d worked himself into an all out pity party. They were probably off at some exclusive club somewhere drinking martinis out of crystal. It galled him to no end. The thought of going home to face his mother’s disappointment with him as well as the sheer loneliness of his entire life sent him driving to the one place on earth he didn’t feel completely worthless.
In the door up the stairs and onto the couch. The thought of staying the night crowded in on him as he buried himself in the cushions and pillows. At least here he was left to his dreams. Scornful sarcasm dripped from his laugh. Tim was right. He was such a dreamer. What made him think that this could ever be better? That he could ever be any more than the son of a groundskeeper? It was all a dream. A stupid, sorry, disappointing dream. Just like everything else in his disaster of a life.
He didn’t even bother to read. He simply switched off the light, pulled the blanket over himself, and let the rest of the world slide into oblivion.
“Just so you know,” Steve said, sidling up to Holly as she sat watching the firelight on the beach, “mine’s the one with the L on the ring.”
Incomprehension went through her as she looked at him. However, she was intent on playing the game of making them like her so she smiled and nodded. More than that, she’d been conducting surveillance on Jean Paul’s alcohol consumption during the day and into the evening hours, and that had her more worried than whatever Steve was talking about. Sure, she’d had a couple too—that’s what you did when you were out with friends, especially if those friends were not your friends. No need to cause a scene or draw unwanted attention.
In fact, since the Gus fiasco, she had practically perfected the art of drinking just enough so no one caught on but not so much that logic and reason got drowned out. Nonetheless, Jean Paul had definitely had his share, and there was no sign of him slowing down either. The ride back home would be a long one at this rate.
A cold wind whipped down the beach, and she huddled into her skimpy cover-up. Somehow she had envisioned leaving long before the sun went down. But here she was, her hair still-damp from the brief ocean swim earlier, trying to stay warm next to a fire that wasn’t helping much.
“Okay, everyone,” the girl from earlier whose name was Carly said, striding into the center of the circle. She looked like she should be in the Miss America pageant. Her high-cut suit accentuated her long legs, and she walked with an air of knowing everyone was thinking that as well. “I’ve got the hat.”
A small whoop of excitement rose from the group. On one side of Holly sitting on the sand instead of the log, Jean Paul clapped, dulled by the alcohol-haze surrounding him. On the other side, Steve let out a deep throated howl. Holly tried to take it all in and figure out what they were doing, but she wasn’t getting very far with that. Her gaze homed in on Carly as she tried to ignore the two guys.
“Gentlemen,” Carly said, striding around the group as the guys dropped things into the hat.
Steve held his up for Holly to see. The keys to his car and sure enough there was a gold L linked to it. She fought the growing nerves screaming at her to run in order to smile at him, but her heart was pounding like a jack hammer.
“Okay, ladies. It’s your turn.” Carly held the hat above her head. “I’ll go first.” She fished for only a moment. “And I’ve got…” She pulled the keys out, and her gaze flashed to Jean Paul. “Jean Paul.”
“Surprise. Surprise,” Marjorie, one of the other girls, said quietly. However, she was next. Each girl in turn pulled a set of keys out until it was Holly’s turn.
Nothing in her wanted any part of whatever this game was. She looked up. “Oh, I don’t… Umm…”
Steve leaned over to her. “It’s okay. Go ahead. It’s fun.”
Tamping down the rising fear, Holly reached into the hat and took hold of the last set of keys. She pulled it out, her hand shaking. There in the bright flickering of the firelight shone the L.
“Good job, baby,” Steve said, and in the next instant his hand was on her thigh.
Inexplicably Jean Paul stood and didn’t so much as look back at her as he went over to Carly.
“I… What…?” Sheer panic attacked her, and her lungs clamped hard over the air in them. What was going on? “Jean Paul?” But he was already walking off away from the fire down the beach with Carly.
Next to her Steve stood. “Come on, babe. I know the perfect place.”
Couples in random pairs stood and left the fire together. It was like fruit basket turnover without the fruit. Holly wrapped her arms over themselves. She stood but anchored her feet in the sand. “What… What’s going on?”
“It’s the key game,” Steve said. “Haven’t you ever played the key game?”
“No. What’s the key game?”
Steve smiled at her with a gleam she didn’t at all like. “Come on. I’ll show you.”
She didn’t want him to show her anything. Jean Paul and Carly had already faded from sight into the darkness just outside the circle of the firelight. She looked after them, but apparently she was on her own with this one. What other choice did she have? Keeping her arms tight across her middle, she stalked away from the fire in front of Steve. However, the farther away from the fire they walked, the colder Holly became.
Glancing over her shoulder at the fire, she realized there were only two people left, and in the glow she saw them kissing like an R-rated movie. Her brain struggled to figure out if they had been a couple prior to the appearance of the hat, but she couldn’t clearly recall.
As the crash of the waves took over all other sounds, fear clutched her hard and tight. She wound part of her hair over her ear, fighting not to shiver. “You know. It’s getting late. I really should be getting home.”
“Home? The fun’s just getting started.” Steve led her over to an enclave of rocks. There was a bit of the beach tucked between them. In the next instant his hands were on her hips, and she was pressed against the smooth gray surface of the tallest rock.
“Hey. Whoa. What’re you doing?” She pushed at him, but his hands pawed every inch of the bare skin they found under her pullover. “Hey! Let me go! What are you doing?”
He was kissing her neck if it could be called that. “Come on, baby doll. Relax. Steve’s got everything under control.”
She beat back against him with the palms of her hands. Panic ran through her like a hot sword. “Stop it! I’m here with Jean Paul, remember?” Why did she seem to be the only one who remembered that? The heat of Steve’s hands scalded her cold skin. “Stop, Steve, please.”
“Hey, you played the game,” he said harshly. “Now quit being such a baby.”
Tears stung the backs of her eyes. It was happening again. This guy. This person she didn’t even know was pawing her as if he owned her, and there wasn’t one single thing she could do about it. The only thing she could wish as the all-too familiar drift of her thoughts consumed her was that she would’ve been smart enough to drink more of the alcohol.
At least then she would have an excuse. At least then she wouldn’t remember.
The events of the evening had rendered Holly completely numb. Jean Paul said good-bye to the others. She hid in the shadows hoping no one guessed what everyone knew. She was a slut, a slut who gave her body away for nothing because it was a game to everyone else. It was what she felt like, too. Nothing. Empty. Hollow.
She followed Jean Paul up the beach and up the steps to the ledge above. Something in her said she should be angry or hurt, but even those would have required a sense of dignity that she simply didn’t have anymore. They got in the car, and she shivered with the slam of his door.
He started the car but didn’t put it into gear. Instead, he looked over at her with a pathetically bad impression of guilt. “I’m sorry about that. They didn’t tell me they were playing tonight.”
Holly didn’t believe him for a minute. But what did it matter if he was telling the truth? The fact that his friends played pass the girlfriend around at all told her all she needed to know.
Then inexplicably he reached over and held his hand up in invitation to hers. “I could make it up to you. We can go over to my place.”
Her hands didn’t move from under her arms. Tears ripped to the surface, but she beat them back. “Take me home.”
He seemed absurdly unhappy about that. “Are you sure? It’s almost an hour drive back.”
She looked at him with deadly seriousness. There was no doubt at that moment that she could have killed had the opportunity been presented.
The arrogant confidence fell from him. “Jeez, I don’t know what the big deal is. It was just a game.”
She wouldn’t give him the satisfaction of seeing her cry. She wouldn’t. Instead she anchored her gaze to the darkness outside feeling herself falling through it as surely as if she was in a black hole. It dragged her down, sucking the desire for life right out of her. The whole world was an ugly, horrible place to live. Sooner or later it reared its hideous head intent on swallowing her whole, and one day it would. She didn’t even have to search for bad anymore. It found her, and in truth, it always had. Why fight it? It was bound to win anyway. It already had. There was nothing left to fight anymore. She leaned her head on the cold window and wondered if there ever had been.
When they pulled up to the mansion, Holly jumped out before Jean Paul could try to explain or make another excuse. They were sickening, and in the last hour she had heard them all. All she wanted to do was get away from him—far, far away. She ran up the steps to the front door, wondering how she didn’t know who he was the first time she’d stood on these steps and kissed him. She’d thought he was a nice guy, a possibility even.
Inside, the mansion was dark. Deep ebony shadows stretched across the entryway. She dove into them and shut the door behind her. After only a few moments the lights of the Porsche swept across the back wall, and the noise of the motor retreated down the driveway. Hot tears of humiliation and resignation breeched their dykes, sliding in streaks down her face. How could she ever face anyone ever again? How would they not guess what she was? Pain clutched her, gripping the breath from her. She wanted, no, she needed something to cover the slashing pain or it would kill her outright.
On prior trips to the kitchen she had seen the little bar tucked away in the back. Like a magnet to metal she made her way to it. Anything. Anything so she could stop thinking about his hands on her body, his breath on her skin. The helplessness. The horror. The disgust. At the cabinet she yanked the door opened and pulled out the first bottle her hand found. She didn’t care what it was. It really didn’t matter. With a twist the cap was off.
The liquid splashed onto her face and down her neck as she swallowed that first burning, stinging drink. The thought of her mother or Luke finding her trashed out slipped over her when the last of that liquid was gone. So moving without thinking, she grabbed two more bottles. It would be enough. With that thought she treaded back through the dark house and out the front door. She didn’t need an audience for this.
Her steps meandered across the grass. Drink after drink stung down her throat. She swiped at the tears, angry with herself for letting them fall. Forget. Forget it all. Cover it. Kill it. It didn’t matter how, what mattered was that she couldn’t face the pain that filled every space of her. If she couldn’t kill it, then it might as well kill her because this wasn’t living.
However, rather than mask the pain, the waves of alcohol brought it up in fistfuls. She drank each one down with splashes and gulps. “God, please, just make it go away!” she screamed to the sky. “I don’t want to live like this anymore. I can’t.” The sobs choked the words from her. “I can’t.”
Swaying in the moonlight, her eyes blurred with tears and ache. The ground called her down, but just before she fell, she saw the carriage house looming in the distance. A breath and she stumbled on toward it. By the time they found her, it would be too late. Calm numbness overtook the pain then. A jump from up high onto the hard, cold stone. She imagined the broken pieces scattered on the floor, but there was no feeling left for them.
One moment and she would be released from this horrific existence that others absurdly called life. This wasn’t life. It was death, clawing, clinging, suffocating death. The fact that she was breathing and walking was only an illusion. She took a defiant drink. The taste gave her courage.
Her steps pulled her toward the door. It would be open, and it wouldn’t look like it had with the stove going. No, it would be dark. Marvelously dark. A darkness to disappear into. Pulling open the door she slipped inside. There she stood, bowing under the weight of the undertaking. For a moment courage failed, and she lifted the bottle to her lips to squelch that feeling. This was the only thing that could help, the only thing that made any sense. However, the bottle yielded not even a drop to prop up the decision. It was now empty too.
She tossed it to the side with a heart-jarring crash and lifted the other one. It stung her throat. One drink. Two, and she wiped her mouth and started up the steps.
The thunderous crash brought Gabe full awake in one second. He lay without moving in the all-encompassing darkness. His heart smashed into his ribs, readying him for whatever it was that had shattered. It was then that his senses caught the footfalls on the stairs, and his mind slid around the room. A weapon. A plan. What could he use? He turned his head slowly and without noise, trying to ascertain who or what it was and what he should do next.
At the top step, the figure swathed in black stopped, and all his senses snapped to it. If he took a flying leap, he could knock whoever it was down the stairs. He had no idea if they knew he was there or not. After all, he’d parked around back as he always did if he stayed the night. What sense was there in alerting the hierarchy to his presence if not necessary? But right now, it would’ve been nice had someone known he was there. It could be days before they found him if this maniac had murder on his mind.
A sound split through the silence, and his senses collapsed through it. A sob. A gasp for air. He heard the splash of liquid, and the horror of who it might be snaked into him. His breathing slowed as his mind worked through what she was doing here and more importantly what her intentions were.
She was moving again along the railing that hovered above the ground floor. He heard it again, the sobbing, and fear hit him hard. She thought she was alone, and this time she wasn’t looking for a place to hide. He knew in that second that he had to do something, but what to do without ramping up the danger on an already out-of-control situation?
She was now standing at the center of the railing. Strangely she held up something, swaying with the effort. “To all the Steves of the world,” she said then she let the object go. It disappeared, and for a split second silence reasserted control. Then the silence was shattered by the crash below.
It was the same crash as before, and it jolted the understanding that she was drinking into him like a punch. How long? With who? Was Steve her boyfriend? Had they had a fight? What about? It was truly amazing the number of questions that streamed through him in mere seconds.
She moved again, swaying at the railing.
Stop her! screamed through him, and in the next second he was on his feet. “Holly, stop!”
Like a trapped animal, she whirled on him, catching the railing as she did so. He had no idea how secure that railing was, and his heart jumped into his throat that it might not hold her up. He’d never really tested it, and it was old. If a piece was rotten…
“Leave me alone,” she hissed. “Do you hear me? Don’t you dare come any closer.” She wiped her eyes and sniffed as if to stop the tears he already knew were there.
He held up his hands. “Holly, please. It’s Gabe.”
That took her a moment to absorb. “Gabe?” Confusion hung in the air. “What are you doing here?” Then she shook her head. “No. It doesn’t matter. You’re not talking me out of this. I’m sick of living, do you hear me? I’m sick of it.” She sniffed hard.
But what he heard most was the slur of the alcohol and the tilt of a mind off-center. As absurd as everything else, she seemed to be dressed in a white sheet. He couldn’t get that to mesh with anything solid, but it was information nonetheless. He held up his hands although in the darkness there was no way she could see him. “Listen to me, Holly. Whatever it is. Whatever happened, we can deal with it.”
Her laugh was a sneer. “Deal with it? Deal with what? That I’m a slut from hell who doesn’t deserve to take another breath? How do you deal with something like that? Trust me, even a saint like you can’t salvage that.”
He could smell the alcohol now. It permeated everything from the ground floor up. It was a struggle to keep his voice calm. “You’re drunk. You don’t know what you’re saying.”
“Oh, I don’t, huh? And how would you know that? You don’t know anything about me.” She wiped her wrist across her nose.
The only thing he could think was he had to stay calm and somehow get her away from that railing. “Look, Holly, you don’t want to do this. This won’t solve anything.”
“It’ll make it so they can never do that to me again. Never again.”
“Do what, Holly? What happened?”
“Oh, you’d like to know, wouldn’t you? The juicy details and all that.” She ran her hand under her nose again, sniffing. “For all I know you’re in on it, too.”
Concern and confusion met in his chest. “In on what?”
“You’re just like all the rest of them. Oh, yeah, you talk a good game. All that God stuff and everything, but underneath, you’re just like the rest of them.”
“I’m not just like anybody. What did they do, Holly? What happened?” One inch at a time he started toward her. He had to get her away from that railing.
The way she looked, she might not even have to jump. She could pitch into it at any second, the force of which would send her right over it. She sniffed and then crumpled into the tears. “I’m such a slut, and they knew it. They knew I’d be easy. They knew it would be simple to talk me into it.” The snap of her head up made him stop. “There was no talking to it. Just do it, Holly. Just do it like always. You’re such a slut. It’s all you’re good for.”
Gabe was advancing again. Step by cautious step. “That’s not true, Holly. It’s not.”
Venom shot from her. “Yes, it is. It always has been.”
“No,” he said softly. “Don’t buy into it. It’s a lie.” He was within feet of her now. “Don’t give them that power. They don’t deserve it.”
Her gaze snapped to him stopping his progress. “Don’t, Gabriel. Don’t try to save me. I’m not worth it.” She looked over the railing, turned to it and grabbed on.
Time had run out. With no other option, Gabe dove for her.
Copyright Staci Stallings, 2007